The art of building software: Making a software shit knife

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making a software shit knife


When I use the word attachment here, the closest meaning comes from the Sanskrit word Upādāna, which is generally translated as attachment.  I have my own related view of attachment.  Although it is alleged to be one of the primary causes of human suffering in some Eastern traditions, in this context the only suffering that could come from attachment to software is making the wrong choice about a technology decision.  I guess you could suffer from that.

Making a shit knife

Geeks like staying abreast of the latest cool shit.  Usually a geek will start their career by hitching their wagon to some piece of cool technology shit that they develop some real depth with.  New pieces of hot shit come by, and the geek is happy to add those to the rest of his cool shit.

When a new problem comes up, the geek looks in his bag of cool shit and pulls out a piece and says "I've got just the cool shit for this."  And he applies his piece of cool shit to the problem and all is good.  In fact, sometimes a geek can get so good at fashioning anything out of his cool shit, he can create something like the infamous Inuit shit knife.  Now that was some serious shit.

The problem of attachment to software

Lucky that Inuit was in some cold climate, because otherwise he probably wouldn't have managed his escape.  And like him, sometimes I am lucky.  But sometimes I just don't have the right cool shit in my bag, so I'll find something that looks close, but it's not the right shit because the right shit isn't in my bag.  When I'm attached to a particular language, I'll choose that language for projects over other languages, even though another language might be a better business choice.  Sometimes I get attached to new technologies I haven't tried yet, because they just seem so damn cool, and then once I learn them I just want to use them everywhere.  Sometimes I've learned a particular pattern for how to solve a problem, and I'll just apply that pattern even though it's not the best choice.  Sometimes a bug will elude me because I'm attached to how I think the code is supposed to work.  In other words, I can let my own attachments interfere with making the best business decision.

Software attachment goes beyond what we have as software developers though.  We're attached to the latest version of our favorite programs, that cool screen saver, the cool web thingy at work, and on and on.  If we have to use something different, we're moving into new territory, the unknown - and that can be scary or stressful for some people.  It is an opportunity for others.

I'm still trying to figure out how to best address this problem in myself, by trying to identify when I am overly-attached to a particular technology to the point where it's getting in the way of making the best business decision.

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